One reached the mountaintop last fall, others were close.
When the fastpitch season opens Monday at some locations, the upper elevations should host some of the familiar climbers. For others, hope reigns eternal in the August heat.
Here’s a look around the area:
The Hornets’ 1-2 punch in the circle and a built-in battery there are back from a Class 4A semifinal trip and 25-6 mark.
Two-time All-Phoenix standout Drew Riddle returns for her junior year. She was 8-2 with a 1.85 ERA. Makayla Williams was 15-3 and 1.94. When Williams is in the circle, Riddle will catch, where she threw out three of just 10 attempting to steal on her.
Both possess big sticks. Riddle hit .452 with 27 RBIs, 11 doubles and seven triples. Williams hit .368 with 23 RBIs and doubles.
Celeste Wood, a junior infielder, hit .374 with 21 RBIs and five doubles. Senior Kaylee Sanchez and juniors Keely Ibarra and Rayna Rock return as starters. Junior Madi Folsom and sophomore Riley Barnoski were part-time starters. Add the freshmen infusion from Lexi Cramp and Bree Galvan.
“They’ve all had good summers,” said Hilldale coach Darren Riddle.
Expect the Lady Hornets to make another state run.
The Lady Tigers (29-10) lost significantly to graduation, but Courtney Hill, a three-time All-Phoenix pitcher is back, and so should be the Lady Tigers, who lost to Hilldale in the 4A quarterfinals last year.
Hill was 25-3 with 211 strikeouts in 166 2/3 innings and a 1.21 ERA. Anything close to that will put the onus on the Lady Tigers offense, where Hannah Thouvenel (.408, 29 RBIs) in center field is the other fourth-year starter.
Bayleigh James returns for her third year as a starter and will be flexible in her use in just about any position other than pitching.
Sophomore Jordan Hayes started as a freshman last year and will plug various holes in the starting lineup, depending on the situation, most likely first, third or catcher. One key contribution from Emma Wafford, a senior outfielder, may be keeping the dugout loose. Coach Joe Obregon says she’s one of the funniest kids he’s had the pleasure of coaching.
Graci Williams is the freshman sister of one of those three key senior losses, Maddi Jo Williams. Another freshman, Erica Hornback, will contribute.
Juniors Abby Porterfield and Nia Polzin will look for breakout years. Maycee Young, Angel Lyons and Avery Ragsdale are three sophomores vying for starting spots.
In Don Yates’ second season at the helm, the Roughers will look to improve on an 11-20 mark after graduating three four-year starters. Four returnees cleared .300 at the plate last year. Jordan Simmons hit .420 and will play shortstop as a junior.
“We have six full-time returning starters including the return of our top pitcher from injury,” Yates said. “ We have a solid infield and a very athletic outfield. The key for us is to avoid injuries. We are working to build depth at all spots but our schedule doesn’t allow us much breathing room. We are excited, but a work in progress.”
Karsyn York is a sophomore catcher who hit .383 as a freshman. Senior left fielder D’Asia Brown hit .344. Pitcher Haidyn Henry has a year of pitching experience under her belt and hit .315. She also plays first.
There’s also Meadow Million, a senior who won eight games in the circle prior to injury.
Third baseman Shania Henry and first baseman/catcher Kayleigh Phillips are the other returning starters. Katlyn Clark, a junior, will contribute either in the circle or outfield.
Going 40-4 and kicking in the state championship door in Class 3A in its 12th consecutive try, the drive for a repeat in Class 3A begins with the knock from 2018 All-Phoenix MVP Madi Joice. The senior was 19-2 with a 1.31 ERA and 104 strikeouts and hit .422 with 18 doubles and 48 RBIs. Then, in the spring, she was the All-Phoenix slowpitch MVP.
She and Lexy Keys, a returning All-Area infielder, three-time MVP in basketball who edged Joice for the Phoenix’s Female Athlete of Year honor, hit .377 last year. Also among the returnees is junior Amiah Galcatcher, who hit .380 with 49 RBIs, 17 doubles, five triples and 22 stolen bases, one ahead of Keys in that department.
Another powerhouse was Lana Gass, who hit .412 with 18 doubles and 49 RBIs.
Only two seniors were lost from coach Jeff Turtle’s title-winner.
Kia Holmes returns six starters off a 29-4 team that was a first-round knockout at Class 3A state, Karlie Ashing (.456) was second last year in batting average and will be a catcher as one of two seniors. Senior Cayton Sloan was one of three who hit .400 and was second on the team with 30 RBIs. She’ll pitch, where she got seven starts last year and didn’t lose, going 8-0 with a 0.11 ERA, one earned run in 59 innings — as the No. 2 starter.
Gracie Britten hit .392 and will play third. First baseman Karley Fewel (.395), shortstop/center fielder Mya Allen hit .379 and returns for her senior season.
Keep a look out for second baseman Jocelynn Williams, a junior who hit .313 in 2018.
The Wolverines (26-10) will have a young but explosive sophomore combo in sophomore Greenlee Wells, the All-Phoenix Newcomer of the Year with a .482 batting average with 17 doubles and 35 RBIs to go with 27 stolen bases. She had an 11-5 mark in the circle, and Kadence Cochran, was 15-5 with a 2.01 ERA and a .444 average at the plate.
Also in the mix, is junior Kacie Gibbins, who hit .457 and played outfield a year ago. The Lady Wolverines were rolling until being upended in back-to-back regional finals games against Pocola.
The Haymakers were 22-15 and hopes for a state shot center around junior shortstop Sherri Mason, .530 at the plate a year ago with 57 RBIs and 24 stolen bases. Chassi Dowdy, a pitcher and infielder at several spots, is a junior who last year hit .495 with 38 RBIs.
The Lady Ironheads were 4-21 a year ago and coach Ryan Green has six returnees led by pitcher/third baseman Journi James (.441), shortstop Caton Skaggs (.386) and first baseman Jaci Nixon (.333), all seniors.
Ronnie Rogers departed Tahlequah in 2009 and began viewing the game from an umpire’s perspective. Rogers, who also coached at Fort Gibson at one time, takes over a Checotah program with four players who hit .300 or higher last year and may be ready to make a major move after going 20-14 a year ago but two-and-out in regionals.
Catcher Samantha Sands (.469) and shortstop Cee Jay Robinson (.394) are the seniors who will again be key. Sands threw out five of seven on the basepaths and picked four others off base.
Outfielder Kaitlyn Searles (.330) and Amanda Brown (.324) also bring the offense among seven total starters that also include juniors Alexis Hamilton in the circle, Amanda Brown in the outfield, Vanessa Henson at first and Ciara Moore at third. Keep an eye on sophomors Bia Fields, a pitcher and infielder, outfielder Kohlie Atkins and third baseman/outfielder Halle Britt.
Jared Webster takes over at Porter, 8-16. He’ll have a cluster of nine with starting experience. Senior shortstop Hallee Boyd, Pitcher Bailey Webb, second baseman Brookin Smith and first baseman Miadon Burnett are all seniors. Brooklyn Spencer in the outfield and Bobby Jackson at catcher are juniors. Three sophomores — outfielders Brittany Welch and Jaliya Mitchell and third baseman Aaeronya Moore — round out the group.
Returning for Jordan Carbone’s second season as the Eagle’s mentor are Madison McIlyea and Hannah Powell, who will try to improve on last year’s 2-18 mark.